Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s most influential buyers of new aircraft, on Friday gave the first crucial backing to the new family of medium capacity, long range jets announced this week by Airbus.

In a powerful vote of confidence for the troubled European aircraft maker, Singapore Airlines (SIA) signed a letter of intent to buy 20 A350 XWB-900s, and at the same time added nine more orders for the Airbus A380 superjumbo in a combined deal worth $7.5bn at list prices before heavy discounts.

In addition it has agreed to lease from Airbus 19 A330-300s for delivery in 2009 and 2010 to provide interim capacity until the new A350s can be delivered between 2012 and 2014.

The demonstration of support by SIA not only for the A350 XWB but also for the A380 superjumbo, which has been hit by embarrassing delivery delays, will come as welcome reassurance to the new management of Airbus led by Christian Streiff, that it is on its way to regaining credibility with important customers.

Airbus has begun its fightback at the UK Farnborough airshow this week and said on Friday it had received firm orders and commitments during the week for 182 aircraft valued at $21.5bn at list prices, before discounts, from 12 customers. Boeing has announced orders for 79 aircraft at Farnborough valued at more than $10bn, but it still remains well ahead of Airbus in the overall order race since the beginning of the year.

SIA had been one of the most vocal critics of Airbus’s new product strategy and its failure to provide an adequate response to the success of the rival 787 and 777 long range jet programmes offered by Boeing.

Last month SIA shocked Airbus by ordering 20 787-9 Dreamliners from Boeing, just as the European aircraft maker was struggling to finalise its product specification for the A350 XWB and was in the midst of a management crisis along with its parent company EADS.

However, Chew Choon Seng, Singapore Airlines’ chief executive, said on Friday it was “heartening” that Airbus had listened to customer airlines and had come up with a totally new design for the A350.

He said the “technical specifications and guaranteed performance” offered by Airbus for the A350 XWB would make it “a very competitive aircraft in its class for the coming decades.”

Airbus announced the $10bn development programme for the A350 XWB on Monday with a family of three aircraft from 270 to 350 seats, a range of 8,500 nautical miles, and entry into service for the initial model, the 314-seat A350 XWB-900, in 2012.

Just as importantly, Mr Chew also threw his support behind Airbus’s efforts to overcome the latest delivery delays for the A380 by ordering nine more bringing its total A380 orders to 19.

SIA is the launch customer for the 555-seat A380, the biggest commercial passenger jet ever built, and is expected to bring it into commercial service early next year.

Mr Chew said that Airbus had “demonstrated to Singapore Airlines’ satisfaction that the engineering design of the A380 is sound. It has performed well in flight and certification tests, and the delays in its delivery have been caused more by production rather than technical issues.”

SIA had held “extensive discussions” with Airbus about new delivery dates and contractual obligations, such as penalty payments for the delays.

It said that its first A380 would be delivered in December and the rest of its initial 10 orders would be delivered between the end of 2006 and mid-2008. The additional nine ordered on Friday will be delivered between late 2008 and 2010.

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